What Is It Like to Be a Professional Comedian?

Comedian Jen Kirkman on the Tonight Show.

Courtesy of NBC

This question originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by Jen Kirkman, Chelsea Lately writer, comedian, best-selling author:

I think the biggest misconception is that comedians have all of this time off. Most just starting out have another job. I started doing comedy in 1997. I worked for free as a comedian for almost 14 years before getting steady paid gigs. I always had a day job. And when you’re a comedian starting out, you get a five-minute spot. And you spend a lot of time sitting and waiting to go on and a lot of time writing material or thinking about writing material.

Now as a professional comedian, I do a one-hour show but usually two per night. Also, having to do press is now involved, so I fly into a city—count anywhere from two to 15 hours of travel time depending on where I’m flying to—and head to the local radio or TV station for interviews the morning of the gig. Or I spend time at home doing “phoners” (phone interviews) the week leading up to the gig. And, of course, a comedian is always looking toward his or her next new hour of material, so there’s the running around to smaller shows to try out new material when not on the road. And since I don’t want to tour full time, I work as a television writer 40 hours a week in addition to being on the road. So, I find I have less free time now then when I worked 9 to 5.

And yes, we spend our spare time like anyone else: observing life, trying to live a life, trying to avoid life, and even if a joke does go over well, we’ll sit around analyzing that, too.

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